South of France

17 Apr

At the end of october last year, we made a short trip to the south of France, a place we love so much. We were unsure how to drive there, the year before it was so warm that we decide to go with our new Kawasaki…..I’m glad that at the very last minute we opted for the car, because it was a week dominted by the mistral. The mistral is a wind which blows violently from the north or the north-west, especially during winter and spring. A strong wind is felt 100 days per year on average, and a weaker wind 83 days. This leaves about 182 days without wind. There are two types of “mistral”: the white mistral where the sky clears and the natural light increases, and the black mistral which is rarer but accompanied by rain. Luckily for us it was sunny all the time…

We stayed at this hidden hotel, in the village center, in need of a bit of renovation, but clean and quite.

The village of Salon-de-Provence wasn’t new for us, still a beauty to explore….

For the second time we had a good dinner at this italian-style restaurant…..not really true italian, but almost…

We tried also a spanish one, very good….

and a true italian pasta restaurant….

First goal of this trip, the perched village of Les Baux-de-Provence….so many times we crossed our paths with it, but we never stopped before.

Les Baux-de-Provence is located in the Bouches-du-Rhône department, and it has a spectacular position in the Alpilles mountains, set atop a rocky outcrop that is crowned with a ruined castle overlooking the plains to the south. The name bauxite (Aluminium ore) is derived from the village name when it was first discovered there by geologist Pierre Berthier in 1821.It has been named one of the most beautiful villages in France and has over 1.5 million visitors per year although it has only 22 residents in the upper part of the commune and 436 for the whole commune. The name Baux-de-Provence comes from the Occitan Bauc according to the classical norm and in Provençal baus according to the Mistralian norm meaning “upright”, “cliff”, or “rocky escarpment”.

The defensive capabilities of Baux have always made it an attractive location for human habitation. Traces of habitation have been found and dated to 6000 BC. in the Costapéra cave which was discovered in 1928 and which houses a collective burial ground from the early Bronze Age. The site was used by the Celts as a fort or oppidum around the 2nd century BC. Peripheral areas or castrum developed very early. While Protohistory was strongly marked by pastoralism and agriculture in the Alpilles, limestone was also extracted from quarries around Baux where a workshop from the end of the 2nd and early 1st centuries BC has been found. In the second part of the Iron Age, the population was sedentary and began to build durable houses. The castrum was structured like a village with its streets and houses. The process of permanent construction was in parallel with the intensification of economic exchanges with Mediterranean traders. In exchange for luxury goods, the inhabitants of the Alpilles produced grain and achieved a state of autarky with a real trading economy. Over the following centuries the population of the Alpilles consistently decreased: the Greek colony at Arles attracted many people from across the region.

In the Middle Ages the area became the stronghold of a feudal domain covering 79 towns and villages. The fortress was built from the 11th to the 13th century over seven hectares. The princes of Baux controlled Provence for many years and they gained a formidable reputation. They were said to be descended from the Biblical Magi Balthazar and their coat of arms was a silver star with sixteen branches as a reminder that, according to the Gospel, it guided the three wise men to Bethlehem. Their motto was: “Au hasard, Balthazar” (At random, Balthazar). As a medieval stronghold on the borders of Languedoc, Comtat Venaissin, and Provence, the fortress had a turbulent military history and has been the subject of many assaults. The solid dungeon that still dominates the village today reiterates the importance of this castle which was a desirable possession in the Middle Ages.

At the end of the Baussenque Wars in the 12th century the princes of Baux were defeated. The large castle began to be renowned for its highly cultivated court and chivalrous conduct. The estate finally came to an end in the 15th century after the death of the last princess of Baux. The death of Queen Joanna I of Naples led to a crisis of succession to the County of Provence. The cities of the Aix Union supported Charles, Duke of Durazzo, against Louis I, Duke of Anjou. The King of France, Charles VI, intervened and sent the Seneschal of Beaucaire, Enguerrand d’Eudin, who rallied Guillaume III Roger de Beaufort. Les Baux, the possession of the Roger, was thus neutral at the beginning of war and on the Angevin side at the end of the decade.

Les Baux, together with Provence, was then attached to the crown of France. Under the rule of the Manville family, the village became a center of Protestantism and even tried a rebellion against the crown. In 1631, tired of conflict, the people negotiated with the king for the redemption of the castle territory and the right to dismantle the fortifications, “which were a refuge for rebels”. Louis XIII consented on 5 August. In 1642 the town was offered the Grimaldi family as a marquisate in favour of Hercule de Grimaldi, Prince of Monaco (1642-1780). The title Marquis of Baux is still carried by the Prince of Monaco. Administratively, the town is entirely French and the title of Marquis of Baux is traditionally given to the heir to the throne of Monaco. Jacques, the son of the current Prince of Monaco Albert II, carries among his many titles that of Marquis of Baux. In 1822 bauxite was discovered in the area by geologist Pierre Berthier. The ore was intensively mined until its exhaustion at the end of the 20th century.

We followed the advice of some friends who’s been there a couple of years before, and I’m so glad we did! This place is just amazing!

You’re completely surrounded (in the dark) by music and paintings, litterally all around you, on the ground, on the walls and ceiling….. thousands of images floating around you, leaving you breathless. An amazing experience, worth the trip just for itself….

Once again on our own steps, we reached the vilage of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, after 11 years from the first time…The painter Vincent van Gogh was treated here in the psychiatric center at Monastery Saint-Paul de Mausole (visitable today as a museum) from 1889 to 1890. Princess Caroline of Monaco and her children lived in Saint-Rémy for several years following the death of her second husband, Stefano Casiraghi. The first time here we were able to see her luxury villa, now well hidden by high walls and guarded by armed guards….

Next stop was Tarascon. Located south of Avignon and north of Arles, on the left (east) bank of the Rhône River. On the other side is the similarly sized town of Beaucaire in the département of Gard, région of Languedoc-Roussillon. Directly opposite each other and connected by several bridges, Beaucaire and Tarascon effectively constitute one town, with about 30,000 inhabitants. Shards dating from the Late Bronze Age have been found in a shelter at a place called the Lèque, confirming the existence of human settlement in the Alpilles since prehistoric times. Settlement spread in the early Iron Age.  Located along the Rhone, at the crossroads between Avignon, the Camargue and the Luberon, Tarascon is still associated with fairy tales and legends dating back to prehistory. According to tradition, Martha of Bethany, who came from Judea, landed at Tarascon where an amphibious dragon, the tarasque, was destroying the river traffic. She tamed the beast only for it to be butchered by the townspeople. Many pilgrims visit the Royal College of Sainte-Marthe, built in her honor near the castle of King René . This sanctuary, the main monument of the city, contains the relics and the tomb of St. Martha in the crypt which was built on the exact location of her house.

Rostagnetus of Tharascone, knight, was provost of Nice, Alderman of Tarascon (1322, 1325) and son of former co-lords of the city in the 12th century. In 1366-67, Guillam de Sault ruled Tarascon. He received an annual salary of 90 florins. The death of Queen Joanna I reopened a succession crisis at the head of the County of Provence, the cities of the Aix Union supporting Charles de Duras against Louis I of Anjou . Tarascon hesitated before joining the Union of Aix, the community deciding in 1383, without committing itself very firmly. When Louis I died, Tarascon was also one of the first cities to receive Jacques Reillanne, Ambassador of his widow Marie de Blois, regent of Louis II of Anjou, in the summer of 1385. He successfully persuaded them to switch sides and join the Angevin Kings of Anjou. The castle is well preserved. The work of construction began in 1400 under Louis II of Anjou and completed in 1449 by his son, King René, led by Guillaume Crespin, captain of the castle, and his lieutenant, Regnault Serocourt, its close relative . With an impressive defensive system, the building also houses a princely residence. It was turned into a military prison in the 17th century, until its acquisition by the state in 1932.

The novel Tartarin de Tarascon (1872) and its two sequels Tartarin sur les Alpes (1885) and Port-Tarascon (1890), by Alphonse Daudet, were set here. Since 1985, there has been a small museum in the town, dedicated to the fictional character Tartarin. A festival is held every year on the last Sunday of June to remember Tartarin and the Tarasque.

On the way towards Marseille, we stopped (despite the strong wind) at the Plage du Jai (Beach Jai), the beach of the village of Marignane, a strip of land over 5km long and 250 m wide on average which marks the separation between two ponds, that of Berre and that of Bolmon. In summer is crowded with people, but for a day we had it all by ourselves…..well, and the horses….

As we did the year before, we took a little ferry (Bac de Barcarin) to cross the pond saving us a long detour…..

to reach the very little village of  Le Salin du Giraud (a village born to house the workers of the salt evaporations ponds) just to have lunch at a terrific restaurant, Les Saladelles…their specialty? bull meat!

Once again, at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer ……a place that seems lost back in time…

The village of Saintes Marie de la Mer, a place of tradition and pilgrimage, is built where the Rhone meets the Mediterranean Sea.
A legendary site, its shore once welcomed at the dawn of the Christianity Marie Jacobi, Marie Salomé and their handmaid Sarah, who were persecuted Christians escaping from Palestine on a boat without a rudder.
In the shade of its Romanesque steeple, visitors can stroll through the narrow paved streets, following the tracks of the pilgrims. From the top of the church, on the lookout for something, with their nose and their hair streaming in the wind, they are greatly moved by the wild plains, places of discoveries and warm meetings with “manadiers” (cowboys) riding through the pastures of bulls bound to a glorious future.
From the village, visitors feel the attraction of the dunes, the sandy beaches and the large marshlands with reeds and manades (herd of black bulls and white horses).

We bought the typical salt of Camargue (white and grey) some rice (wild red, long white and black) , bull sausages and some white wines….how can you resist, come on?

below….social network….playing bowls on the sand, protectedby the church…

Back to the beautiful Aigues-Mortes……..

Much enjoyable now, away from the hot july sun….to know more about it, read my previous post

We had really a great time, both discovering new places and finding comfort in old ones….

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Posted by on April 17, 2018 in Uncategorized


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